The Travellers

Sonata Chinquitanas XVIII
Crawford Seeger
Andante for Strings
Pink Floyd
Shine On, You Crazy Diamond [arr. Tognetti]
Birthday Piece for RRB [Australian Premiere]
Two Pieces for String Octet, Op.11
Joseph Tawadros
Alamein; Remember Baghdad; Oasis; Rose; Dahab; Huntington Tarab
To era niña de casa alta

Joseph Tawadros (oud) & James Tawadros (Egyptian percussion)

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti (violin)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 14 February, 2006
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

Billed as a programme celebrating anniversaries, travels and cross-cultural exchanges, this concert was also an exploration of improvisation and chromaticism within different contexts.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra is 30 this year; to highlight the anniversary theme it performed both Robert Saxton’s birthday tribute to Richard Rodney Bennett and Two Pieces for String Octet by Shostakovich (2006 being his centenary). The travelling theme (the programme notes state that the ACO “is away from home 100 nights a year”) gave rise to an exploration of American, Sephardic, Spanish-Bolivian, Egyptian (with the help of young Australian-Egyptian musicians Joseph and James Tawadros) and 1970s’ pop music.

What really tied everything together, however, was an improvisatory approach (whether a free and expressive reading of the score or genuine ex-tempore invention) on every level (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, timbral and textural) to the way in which each work played with the concept of chromaticism, either consciously or not.

The Sonata Chiquitanas, in usual baroque fashion, plays it safe with carefully prepared dissonance and appoggiaturas; Shostakovich’s use of traditional part-writing is remarkably similar, despite the different expressive ends. Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Andante for Strings inhabits the same soundworld as Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and even, at times, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, pointing towards the extremes of Saxton’s personal language. The “blue” pentatonics of “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” and the Arabic Maqam system of modes complete the circle, with quarter- and eighth-tones legion.

Performances throughout were what we have come to expect from the ACO: a combination of superb musicianship and intelligent risk-taking. The addition of Joseph Tawadros on oud and his brother James on percussion (both, and the ACO, were amplified during these collaborations) was inspired, with the resultant textures and free exchanges going far beyond “world fusion” – those used to pre-baroque music and its often Moorish flavour (Jordi Savall’s realisations are a good example in this respect) will perhaps get some idea of the effect.

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